Saturday, February 01, 2020

The death of fair play

Traditionally, American elections operate like sports. There's a uniform set of rules. The same rules for both sides going in. You win by the rules or lose by the rules. And a loss is a loss. 

If you lose, you have a chance in the next game/election to recoup your loss by winning, but in-between the last game and the next game, what's on the scoreboard stays put. If your team loses, you swallow the loss and try harder next time. 

But nowadays, many secular progressives don't believe in fair play. They don't concede defeat–even temporarily. 

It doesn't matter what happens on the field. It doesn't matter if the opposing team won fair and square. Nowadays, when the left loses an election, they try to nullify the results. They try to change the score after the fact. A loss is never a loss. They refuse to accept the legitimacy of a system where both sides must operate by the same rules. Where you accept the results. 

And this mentality isn't confined to progressive Americans. The EU had the same mentality. When countries voted against a treaty, the EU would nullify the vote. Likewise, elites did everything they could to vacate Brexit.

As I've said before, I think this reflects the outworking of atheism. If this life is all there is, you can't afford to lose, because you don't get that many chances to win the next time around. So you can't afford to play by the rules. If you lose the election, you win after the fact by getting it overturned.  

Secular doomsday cult

I've found the furious reaction to Trump's impeding acquittal curious. Liberals are just livid. Absolutely beside themselves But why? Were they seriously expecting 2/3+ of the Senate to vote for his removal? That was never realistic. So what's the explanation?

i) To some extent they're just sore losers. 

ii) Some of them may believe that many or most GOP senators privately share their viewpoint about Trump, but are too craven to vote against him for fear of political backlash from the base. It's inconceivable to them that anyone can't see the Trump administration the same way they do. So they assume the impending acquittal must be due to hypocrisy!

iii) Some of them may believe that GOP senators ought to share their view of Trump. If they don't, then that goes to show how obtuse they are. So some of them may be enraged by the fact that the senators in question can't see what's blindingly obvious. The "facts" are staring them right in the face. How can they be so willfully oblivious? 

(ii) & (iii) are due largely to the fact that many of them only listen to one side of the argument. They only watch or read progressive "news" outlets. So for them, the facts are indisputable. It's striking how so many people allow themselves to be manipulated by selective exposure. (Of course, that's not unique to secular progressives.)

In addition, many Americans believe that Christianity and conservative ideology are evil. They view this as an existential threat to all that's decent and rational. It's like a doomsday cult. A secular millennial cult with a hysterically apocalyptic outlook. 


You are walking through the woods when you suddenly come upon a centaur staring back at you about 10 feet away. His eyes are fierce, his expression dark and stentorian. You pinch yourself and rub your eyes, but he's still there. Then he turns and gallops into the brush.

You're definitely not dreaming. You're not taking any medication or illicit drugs or are under undue stress that might suggest a hallucination. What do you conclude?

1. It's unclear where Rauser is going with this. His M.O. is to play both sides of the atheist fence. So the drift of the comparison may be the last-ditch position of atheists like Richard Dawkins and Peter Atkins who say it's more reasonable to believe that you lost your mind than to believe in a miracle, even if you see it happen right before your eyes.

2. Suppose in response to Rauser's hypothetical, a Christian says it's more reasonable to believe he was hallucinating than to believe centaurs exist. Will Rauser then exclaim that this justifies an atheist taking the same position with respect to firsthand miracle reports? 

3. It's easy to set hypothetical traps, but they're just hypotheticals. The fact that you can contrive a hypothetical dilemma for Christians doesn't make that a reason to be skeptical. Having doubts about the centaur doesn't warrant doubts about miracles unless that's a realistic comparison. The analogy only works if we experience something analogous. Otherwise, it's just an imaginary wedge issue. 

4. It's naturally impossible for centaurs to exist. They could only exist under supernatural conditions. But even at that level, what kind of being would cause centaurs to exist? What purpose does that serve? Even supernaturalism has a plausibility structure. Supernaturalism doesn't open the door to just any kind of arbitrary postulate. 

Centaurs are fictional characters in Greek mythology. God isn't going to create a centaur. That would foster a pagan worldview. 

5. But a hallucination is not the only explanation. There's a middle ground. Something can be illusory without being subjective. Suppose by the power of witchcraft an observer is caused to perceive a centaur. It isn't really there, yet the illusion doesn't originate in the mind or imagination of the observer. An external agent is causing the illusion. An external agent is causing the observer to perceive a centaur. Even if the illusion is psychological, it could be telepathic. 

6. Here's another variation. Suppose by the power of witchcraft an optical illusion takes the form of a centaur. What appears in the observer's field of vision is something real, something outside the observer. A configuration of lightwaves that has the appearance of a centaur. 

7. Here's yet another variation. Suppose by the power of witchcraft, matter is organized into the shape of a centaur. A physical entity with empirical secondary properties. 

Tips on creative writing

There different potential starting-points or strategies in storytelling. Stories have four basic elements: plot, setting, characters, and dialogue (movies add a sound track or music). It's possible for a creative writer to have a story that's driven by one of these compositional elements, and the other elements grow out of that. 

For instance, C. S. Lewis's stories apparently originate in mental images. You might say he begins with the setting, then works the other elements of the story into that framework. 

It may be that some authors suffer from writer's block because they forget the elements of storytelling. It's a blur. If they were to take it apart in terms of plot, setting, characters, and dialogue, that might give them an angle for how to get into a new story. 

Going crazy

Just in general, his video suffers from a self-congratulatory tone. 

I'm a 30-year-old, able-bodied man, well-educated man who's decided that I want nothing to do with dating, marriage, or sex. That I'd rather spend my time with the sick, poor, emotionally-burdened, and elderly, than I would with a wife and children of my own. 

i) Assuming he's straight (and he's mentioned a girlfriend in his past), this statement, as it stands, is just not credible. No normal, young, able-bodied man wants nothing to do with sex. The most charitable interpretation is that he's waxing hyperbolic. 

A powerful, innate, irrepressible desire for sex and female companionship is always in play. The potential is always in reserve. It's a live option. Some men leave the priesthood for women. Take the recent case of Fr. Jonathan Morris. Or Alberto Cutié. 

For different reasons, some men despair of that. They've given up hope. But the instinct is not a switch you can flip on and off. 

2. A more honest statement would be for Casey to say, not that he wants nothing to do with sex, but that he's made a sacrifice. His hardwired desire is overridden by a sense of duty. 

3. Since he's not a husband and father, he has no basis of comparison. Suppose he was happily married with kids. Would he regret his choice?

4. Wanting to have a normal family life isn't "worldly" but godly. God made us social creatures and sexual creatures. That's built-in. That's part of our telos. 

5. Casey erects a false dichotomy between having a normal family life and ministering to the sick, poor, emotionally-burdened, and elderly–as if those are mutually exclusive activities. In fact, ministry is emotionally draining, and a happy family life helps to recharge a pastor so that he can do ministry without undergoing emotional burnout. Compare that to the cliche of the "whisky priest" who can't cope with the yawning, interminable, inconsolable isolation and loneliness. 

6. Casey is well-educated in the sense that he has degrees in religion, but those aren't widely marketable. It's not like he has an MBA from Harvard, but went into the Franciscan order instead of Wall Street. And while he took a vow of poverty, it's not like he's living on the street. He enjoys free room and board. The Franciscan order provides for all the necessities. That frees him up to focus on other things. 

7. When you're young you have a sense of boundless opportunities. The future is wide open. You have opportunities to burn. You can blow opportunities but have to time make up for lost opportunities. As you age, opportunities dwindle. 

Many men can get to a point in life where they panic because they realize they just passed the last exit on the freewill. It's too late to turn around. This is for the duration. They must now continue on this course until they die. It will be this way all the way to the end. 

Casey is still too young to have that sense of life closing in on him, but that's the problem with his boastful statements. He's not at the point of life where he knows what he's talking about when he makes these back-patting, overly self-confident statements. He lacks the necessary experience. The youthful idealism may be sincere, but life can look very different at 50 than 30. There are seasoned priests who'd wince at his lack of foresight and self-understanding. It becomes costlier as time goes on. 

8. He talks about his jam-packed itinerary, but busyness can be a distraction from emptiness and loneliness. A better test is how you feel when you're not preoccupied with filler to pad out what's missing in your life. 

Did Jesus die for little green men?

Now imagine the universe is teeming with other intelligent civilizations. What is a Christian believer supposed to say? Claiming that Christ died only for us, while the rest of the universe is screwed, would be incompatible with God’s love. If, however, earthly Jesus died for the whole universe, myriads of extraterrestrial sinners included, we would have to accept a geocentrism even more preposterous than the spatial variant. Neither is there a way out by suggesting that other intelligent species may not have been “fallen.” This proposal amounts to a negative human exceptionalism that is totally unbelievable, given that alien species are subject to the same general evolutionary mechanisms as we are. Natural selection favours “selfish” traits.

What about multiple incarnations? Here another difficulty of traditional Christian doctrine comes into play: Christ has two natures—he is “truly God and truly man.” But how are members of completely different biological species (“truly man” and “truly Klingon,” let’s say) supposed to stand in a relationship of personal identity? Even worse, if the number of sinful species in the universe exceeds a certain threshold, God would be forced to incarnate himself simultaneously. However, no single person who is an embodied being with a finite nature, i.e. a “truly” biological organism, can be more than one such being at the same time. If, on the other hand, the incarnations were not personally identical, many different persons with a divine nature would result—too many even for a Christian. Finally: May extraterrestrial sinners have been reconciled to God by means different from a divine incarnation? Perhaps, but even if the Christian believer concedes alternative means of salvation she is stuck with the highly implausible geocentric claim that the incarnation, i.e. one of the most remarkable events in the history of the cosmos, happens just 2000 years ago on our planet, although myriads of other inhabited planets were also available.

Therefore, I conclude, the traditional Christian believer can’t make theological sense of extraterrestrial intelligent life.

i) Unless and until we discover aliens, or they discover us, this is purely academic. Even if this might be a defeater for Christianity, it's a hypothetical defeater, not a demonstrable defeater. 

ii) Calvinists, who subscribe to limited atonement, reject an assumption of his argument.

iii) According to Scripture, many angels are fallen, but no provision was made for their redemption.

iv) There's no reason to think the fall of Adam would implicate inhumane species in original sin. Aliens are not Adam's posterity. Adam is not their federal head.

v) Assuming that aliens exist, there's no presumption that they are fallen. Hence, there's no presumption that aliens require an atonement even if they do exist.

vi) The doctrine of original sin isn't based on evolution. Indeed, theistic evolution typically denies a historic fall.

vii) There's no presumption that if aliens exist, they are the product of evolution rather than special creation. 

viii) The Incarnation is unique in reference to the Son becoming human. In principle, the Incarnation is repeatable in reference to the Son assuming the nature of other intelligent creatures. The uniqueness of the Incarnation doesn't preclude multiple incarnations in that respect because each incarnation would be a unique, unrepeatable union  between the Son and the nature of an intelligent species. 

ix) It's not contrary to personal identity for the Son to form a hypostatic union with more than one species. It would be the same timeless, spaceless Son at one end of the relation. Although there'd be more than one individual creature at the other end of the relation, that would just mean the Son qua Incarnate is not uniquely identical to any particular instance of incarnation, but identical to the ensemble. 

To take a comparison: suppose God created a multiverse. In that event, God is the Creator of each separate universe as well as the multiverse. His identity as Creator operates at more than one level. The Creator of the set as well as the subsets. 

x) In the nature of the case, Bible history zeros in on earth history and human history. It's silent on the question of alien life. It's silent on the question of a multiverse. It doesn't speak to those hypotheticals one way or the other. It doesn't address the world history of aliens on other planets, assuming they exist. For the record, I have no opinion about the existence of aliens in our universe.  

From son of Sam to son of God

Friday, January 31, 2020

Angry deconvert syndrome

What's unintentionally comical about Rauser's post is that he himself epitomizes the angry deconvert syndrome. He constantly reminds us that he's a former fundamentalist, raised in a fundamentalist church/family. He constantly rails against fundamentalism. He finds it frustrating aggravating that he can't get most Christians or atheists to take his progressive theology seriously. He tries to discredit the testimony of angry deconverts, but he discredits his own deconversion testimony in the process. He acts like his personal experience growing up in a fundamentalist church/family makes him an authority on fundamentalism. Just like apostate atheists with the same background.  

The Story Retold

Impeachment wrapup

A few parting observations on the impeachment charade:

1. It takes a 2/3 vote in the Senate to convict a president. So it would be necessary to peel away many GOP senators to have enough votes to convict Trump. From what I've read, nearly 90% of Republican voters oppose impeachment. Therefore, it would be political suicide for the Senate to convict Trump. As such, the impeachment process initiated in the House was always going to be DOA when it got to the Senate. 

2. I see Democrats accuse Trump of cheating. But Trump didn't cheat in the 2016 election. By contrast, Obama used the IRS to steal the 2012 election, while the Obama administration (e.g. FBI, NSA, DOJ) did all it could to steal the 2016 election for Hillary.

3. Then there's the demand for witnesses. It's a game of chicken: Democrats say they want Bolton to testify. Republicans counter that we'll give you Bolton in exchange for Joe and Hunter Biden. Democrats balk. 

Anyway, Bolton has nothing new to say. The quid-pro-quid, dig up dirt on Biden has been on the table from the get-go. Most Republicans and many independents just don't care. 

On the one hand I think it's an abuse of power for a president to use his position to damage a political rival. On the other hand, there are mitigating factors in this case. There's nothing inherently wrong with digging up dirt on a dirty politician. And it's not coincidental that Trump was seeking information from Ukraine about the Bidens, since Joe's activities regarding Ukraine leave him genuinely vulnerable. 

Presidents can and often do have multiple motives. National interest and political self-interest intertwine. 

4. I believe Democrats have also said they want the "whistleblower to testify. He's been informally I.D'd as Eric Ciaramella. From what I've read, the whistleblower is a partisan apparatchik. And in any event, his knowledge of the phone call is hearsay. It adds nothing to the public record. The only smoking gun is a toy cap gun. 

Star Trek: Picard

1. Out of curiosity, I saw the pilot episode of Star Trek: Picard. I did it in part because the pilot episode can be viewed for free. If I cared enough, I could view the second episode for free by taking out the temporary subscription, then canceling it, but I don't care that much. It's not really fair to judge a series by the pilot episode, but I'll do it anyway. I was never planning to watch the entire series. 

2. I've been viewing Star Trek on and off since 1966. TNG was arguably the most successful of the spinoffs (some Trekkies prefer DS9), so if you're going to exhume one of the spinoffs, that's the obvious candidate. 

3. The newest iteration of the franchise is a star vehicle for Stewart. It will succeed or fail based on his ability to center it. Pushing 80, he looks and sounds his age. In his prime he was a larger-than-life stage actor squeezing into the role of a TV actor. You could often see the frustration as he had to hold so much in reserve. Occasionally he had a scene where he was free to cut loose and perform on a theatrical scale, but that was rare.

Now his situation is the opposite. At his age the reserves are gone. That sets a low ceiling in his ability to rise above a certain dynamic range. 

The Picard character was never all that sympathetic. Aloof and rulebound. For someone who made his career exploring alien civilizations, he was quite narrow, chauvinistic, and intolerant. He treated the Starfleet code of conduct as a universal norm. In one episode, Worf's wife is murdered. Worf exacts revenge by slaying her assailant. That's the Klingon honor code, but Picard disapproves.

However, Stewart's aging process has mellowed Picard. It lends poignancy to the character. 

In that regard, it's striking to compare Stewart, in his prime, playing an old man in "All Good Things…" to Stewart as an old man. Despite his formidable acting chops, Stewart's attempt to play his older self wasn't very prescient or convincing when you compare it to the real elderly Stewart. 

There is a certain irony in the fact that Chris Pine has been bypassed to go back Stewart and TNG. Especially for atheists, there's sentimental appeal to watching beloved actors over the years reprise old roles. Since they deny the afterlife, it gives them a sense of rootedness in their past.  

4. There's a silly fight scene at Stardleet Archives where a female android singlehandedly protects Picard from Romulan terrorists. Doesn't the Starfleet complex have surveillance and security? Can't they scramble/beam armed guards to the fight scene?

5. Picard is having paranormal/precognitive dreams. How does he have that ability? Will the source of his dreams be explained? Is this like hive mind telepathy, where his dreams are subconsciously tapping into other (alien?) minds? Even if that's the case, it wouldn't explain paranormal/precognitive dreams about androids, since their "minds" operate on a different basis, a different wavelength. 

6. The series will have guest stars like Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine. That betrays a certain lack of confidence on the part of the TV producers. She was the actress/character who rescued Voyager from ratings oblivion, so it's understandable that the producers wish to include her, but her character doesn't belong in the TNG timeline. 

7. The episode suffers from tired plot ideas. Data gave his "life" to save Picard. One goal is to revive Data. But was his positronic mind/memories destroyed? Is he gone forever? 

That recycles The Search of Spock, where Spock gave his life to save the crew. Can he be restored? They have a new body, but what about his mind? Vulcans have a soul or katra. But did he transfer his consciousness to someone else (McCoy) before he died? And can the T'Pau reunite the soul to the body? 

8. Another tired plot idea is the destruction of homeworlds. In Generations, a probe collapses the Veridian sun, wiping out inhabited planets in its solar system. In The Undiscovered Country, an explosion on Praxis dissolves the ozone layer of Kronos. In Star Trek (2009), Vulcan is destroyed by an artificial black hole inside planet. Now, in Star Trek: Picard, Romulus is destroyed when its sun goes supernova. This is lazy screenwriting. 

9. In addition, the destruction of homeworlds suffers from a tension in SF metaphysics: time-travel. In a genre where time-travel is feasible, the obvious, easy solution to the destruction of your homeworld is to go back in time and change a key variable, thereby averting the cataclysm and restoring the status quo ante.

10. Admittedly, it might not be possible to prevent a supernova, but that goes to another scientific absurdity. A sun doesn't go supernova overnight. Surely Romulus would become uninhabitable long before its sun went supernova, at that late stage in its lifecyle. So the Romulans had plenty of lead-time to evacuate and colonize another M-class planet.

11. Time-travel poses a dilemma for the SF genre. On the one hand it's one of the most appealing conventions of the genre, because it's such a nifty way to illustrate and explore hypothetical or counterfactual scenarios. On the other hand, the principle is too powerful, too flexible. If feasible, it would be overused and have a radically destabilizing effect. It would obliterate historical continuity as plenary or cosmic history keeps resetting to create alternate timelines that replace the last timeline. So SF writers are arbitrarily selective about the convention. 

Literary device theory

Did Jesus die for Klingons?

Christian Weidemann argues:

Every major religion on Earth could easily accommodate the discovery of (intelligent) alien life, with one exception: Christianity.

...Now imagine the universe is teeming with other intelligent civilizations. What is a Christian believer supposed to say? Claiming that Christ died only for us, while the rest of the universe is screwed, would be incompatible with God’s love. If, however, earthly Jesus died for the whole universe, myriads of extraterrestrial sinners included, we would have to accept a geocentrism even more preposterous than the spatial variant. Neither is there a way out by suggesting that other intelligent species may not have been “fallen.” This proposal amounts to a negative human exceptionalism that is totally unbelievable, given that alien species are subject to the same general evolutionary mechanisms as we are. Natural selection favours “selfish” traits.

What about multiple incarnations? Here another difficulty of traditional Christian doctrine comes into play: Christ has two natures—he is “truly God and truly man.” But how are members of completely different biological species (“truly man” and “truly Klingon,” let’s say) supposed to stand in a relationship of personal identity? Even worse, if the number of sinful species in the universe exceeds a certain threshold, God would be forced to incarnate himself simultaneously. However, no single person who is an embodied being with a finite nature, i.e. a “truly” biological organism, can be more than one such being at the same time. If, on the other hand, the incarnations were not personally identical, many different persons with a divine nature would result—too many even for a Christian. Finally: May extraterrestrial sinners have been reconciled to God by means different from a divine incarnation? Perhaps, but even if the Christian believer concedes alternative means of salvation she is stuck with the highly implausible geocentric claim that the incarnation, i.e. one of the most remarkable events in the history of the cosmos, happens just 2000 years ago on our planet, although myriads of other inhabited planets were also available.

Therefore, I conclude, the traditional Christian believer can’t make theological sense of extraterrestrial intelligent life.


1. And this is from a lecturer in Protestant theology! With "friends" like these...

2. Why isn't it possible for Christ to have died "only" for humans? Suppose intelligent aliens exist, but suppose they likewise rebelled against God. So they're fallen too. In that case, why should God's "love" extend to rebels? What about God's justice? Is it "incompatible with God's love" if God doesn't rescue Satan and the fallen angels?

3. Is it "preposterous" if an "earthly Jesus" died for other extraterrestrials? What if other extraterrestrials in the universe are also human?

4. Weidemann assumes evolutionary mechanisms shape our morality, but that's highly contentious. He'd have to mount a case for this for a start.

Besides, just because an act is "selfish" doesn't necessarily mean it's sinful. It's selfish for me to walk on the beach alone when I could be having a conversation with a friend, but it's not necessarily sinful for me to do so.

In theory it's possible aliens could have evolutionarily "selfish traits". Such as caring more about themselves than other aliens. But that's not necessarily sinful. Just like it's possible humans might care more about other humans than other animals, but still care for other animals.

5. The multiple incarnations dilemma is an interesting one. Granted, I'm no philosopher or theologian, but I'll try to take a stab at this:

a. For one thing, why assume "God would be forced to incarnate himself simultaneously"? Why couldn't God incarnate himself sequentially?

b. What's more, even if the Son of God incarnated himself simultaneously, I don't see how this would be problematic if, as most traditional Christians believe, God is outside spacetime. Why couldn't a timeless God have multiple instances of himself at multiple points in the spacetime continuum? Take the fiction of C. S. Lewis. Lewis wrote about Aslan in Narnia as well as Maleldil in Perelandra. We know Lewis meant both to be the Son of God. I envision Narnia and Perelandra sort of (not quite) paralleling other worlds. (Indeed, consider whether God the Son could have become incarnate in parallel universes rather than other worlds within the same universe.)

c. I assume some form of Cartesian dualism is true. If so, then it's possible for humans to become disembodied. Our souls can be decoupled from our bodies (at death). We live on despite the death of our physical bodies. Meanwhile our corpses rot away; they become dust and ashes. At the same time, God promises his people new bodies in the world to come. As such, it's possible for our souls to inhabit more than one body. (As an aside, this likewise calls to mind scifi shows like Altered Carbon where people have their minds uploaded to a cloud, then downloaded to various bodies.)

Why couldn't something like this be true of the Son of God too? However an objection might be humans cannot possess more than one body at the same time. Perhaps a response could be that that's not necessarily the case for the Son of God. For one thing, he is omnipresent, unlike humans.

d. As far as the issue of identity, was the Son of God's pre-resurrection body identical to his post-resurrection body, given his pre-resurrection body died and deteriorated?

e. Weidemann floats the rejoinder that the salvation of extraterrestrials could have occurred with "alternative means of salvation" absent the incarnation (I agree). However, he immediately dismisses it because it means the Christian is "geocentric". However I don't see what's necessarily wrong with "geocentrism"? Why is it necessarily morally problematic for God to have saved Earthlings by having the incarnation (and crucifixion and resurrection)?

If anything, wouldn't the incarnation imply how far the moral rot in humans has spread that God the Son had to become flesh like us to save us rather than implying anything virtuous about humans? There's no room for pride in the criminal who had to have another pay for his crimes because he had no other options for restitution left to him.


Should we panic over the novel coronavirus strain from Wuhan, China (hereafter: nCoV)?

Short answer: I don't think so. At least not yet.

Longer answer (in no particular order):

1. The vast majority of cases and deaths are and still remain in China. At last count, I think the US has 6 cases from nCoV. Canada has 3 cases. Johns Hopkins is tracking the epidemic in real-time. See here for the map.

2. Coronaviruses are nothing new. We've known about them for like 50 years or more. Coronaviruses can cause the common cold, but (more worrying) they caused SARS and MERS. In fact, MERS was deadlier than SARS but not as well reported in the media. SARS had approximately 8,000 cases and approximately 800 deaths from 1 major outbreak in China (likely source is bats), whereas MERS had approximately 2,500 cases and approximately 850 deaths from 10 major outbreaks mainly in Saudi Arabia (likely source is camels).

3. For a while now, major medical organizations (e.g. WHO, CDC) have been predicting a coronavirus from China/Asia would likely cause an epidemic and have been preparing for it too. It's not like the Ebola epidemic in W. Africa which caught medical professionals by surprise when they had originally thought it was cholera.

4. E. O. Wilson once said something like: there's more genetic variety among viruses than in the rest of life combined together. Viruses have tremendous genetic variety. Hence why it's relatively "easier" for viruses to jump from species to species. It doesn't help that Chinese markets are often rife with poor hygiene practices and the like. That's unlike the US where we have better food safety regulations which most follow.

5. Statistically speaking, we're far more likely to get sick from and even die from the flu than the nCoV. Especially considering the recent flu that's afflicting a lot of Americans is thought to be a re-emergence of the H1N1 from 2009.

6. The US has learned to deal with outbreaks better ever since SARS. Sure, we can't quarantine entire cities like a communist government can, but we don't have to since we're not ground zero and since the outbreak doesn't threaten to overwhelm us. We primarily need strict controls over entry/access points to the US from travel from Wuhan, China at this point (which we've already implemented in places like LA, SF, and NYC), isolate and treat individuals suspected of carrying the virus, and otherwise continue to track emerging trends.

7. In the main, people don't die from coronavirus, but from complications like ARDS. Most who contract coronavirus can overcome it without hospitalization. A minority are hospitalized. And an even smaller minority end up in the ICU. That's when it becomes more life-threatening. Yet, even still, a majority make it out of the ICU. In fairness, this is a novel virus, so things could differ.

8. In the US, we have better trained medical professionals as well as better medical equipment than widely available in China (e.g. ECMO machines).

9. There are several organizations (public and private) including the NIH and Johnson & Johnson working on a vaccine for the nCoV. I think I read somewhere the NIH is even saying the vaccine could be ready within 3 months, which, if so, would be just in time for the disease to peak.

10. To be fair, SARS was severe but could (for the most part) only be spread if a patient is symptomatic, whereas the flu is (relatively) mild but could be spread if a patient is asymptomatic. The concern with nCoV is that it can spread asymptomatically and it may be quite severe. So that's a legitimate concern.

11. In short, though there are some concerns on the horizon, there's no need for Americans and most others in developed nations to panic at this point. However, that doesn't necessarily mean the situation won't worsen. Medical experts including epidemiologists are predicting the nCoV will reach its peak at about the 3 month point. Time will tell.

However China might well be justified if it "panics". Certainly the Chinese government or Chinese communist party since they seem to be having difficulties. It also doesn't help that they're obfuscating certain problems and refusing to let Western nations like the US see all the relevant data. I guess they're doing better than when SARS broke out, but they're still not entirely transparent, which would better help medical experts combat and stem the epidemic.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Why Lewis wrote fiction

Why did C. S. Lewis write Christian fiction? He seemed to have several related motivations:

“Any amount of theology can now be smuggled into people’s minds under cover of romance without their knowing it.” (C. S. Lewis, 9 August 1939), The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis.

I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralysed much of my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday School associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could.  "Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What's to Be Said"

And finally, though it may seem a sour paradox – we must sometimes get away from the Authorised Version, if for no other reason, simply because it is so beautiful and so solemn. Beauty exalts, but beauty also lulls. Early associations endear but they also confuse. Through that beautiful solemnity the transporting or horrifying realities of which the book tells may come to us blunted and disarmed and we may only sigh with tranquil veneration when we ought to be burning with shame or struck dumb with terror or carried out of ourselves by ravishing throes and adoration. Does the word ‘scourged’ really come home to us like ‘flogged’? Does ‘mocked him’ sting like ‘jeered at him’? "Introduction to J.B. Phillips’ Letters to Young Churches: A Translation of the New Testament Epistles." 

Our great danger at present is lest the church should continue to practice a merely missionary technique in what has become a missionary situation. A century ago our task was to edify those who had been brought up in the faith: our present task is chiefly to convert and instruct infidels. Great Britain is as much part of the mission field as China. Now if you were sent to the Bantus you would be taught their language and traditions. You need similar teaching about the language and mental habits of your own uneducated and unbelieving fellow countrymen. Many priests are quite ignorant on this subject. What I know about it I have learned from talking in R.A.F.8 camps. They were mostly inhabited by Englishmen and, therefore, some of what I shall say may be irrelevant to the situation in Wales. You will sift out what does not apply.

(1) I find that the uneducated Englishman is an almost total sceptic about history. I had expected he would disbelieve the Gospels because they contain miracles: but he really disbelieves them because they deal with things that happened two thousand years ago. He would disbelieve equally in the battle of Actium if he heard of it. To those who have had our kind of education, his state of mind is very difficult to realize. To us the present has always appeared as one section in a huge continuous process.

In his mind the present occupies almost the whole field of vision. Beyond it, isolated from it, and quite unimportant, is something called "the old days"—a small, comic jungle in which highwaymen, Queen Elizabeth, knights-in-armor, etc. wander about. Then (strangest of all) beyond the old days comes a picture of "primitive man." He is "science," not "history," and is therefore felt to be much more real than the old days. In other words, the prehistoric is much more believed in than the historic.

(2) He has a distrust (very rational in the state of his knowledge) of ancient texts. Thus a man has sometimes said to me, "These records were written in the days before printing, weren't they? And you haven't got the original bit of paper, have you? So what it comes to is that someone wrote something and someone else copied it and someone else copied that and so on. Well, by the time it comes to us, it won't be in the least like the original." This is a difficult objection to deal with because one cannot, there and then, start teaching the whole science of textual criticism. But at this point their real religion (i.e. faith in "science") has come to my aid. The assurance that there is a "science" called "textual criticism" and that its results (not only as regards the New Testament, but as regards ancient texts in general) are generally accepted, will usually be received without objection. (I need hardly point out that the word "text" must not be used, since to your audience it means only "a scriptural quotation.")

(3) A sense of sin is almost totally lacking. Our situation is thus very different from that of the Apostles. The Pagans (and still more the metuentes9) to whom they preached were haunted by a sense of guilt and to them the Gospel was, therefore, "good news." We address people who have been trained to believe that whatever goes wrong in the world is someone else's fault—the capitalists', the government's, the Nazis', the generals', etc. They approach God Himself as His judges. They want to know, not whether they can be acquitted for sin, but whether He can be acquitted for creating such a world. "Christian Apologetics"

Withholding sex

Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control (1 Cor 7:5).

This raises an interesting question. Scripture repeatedly condemns adultery. That's one of the grave sins in Scripture. It even becomes a spiritual metaphor.

But what exactly makes adultery a sin? One can think of pragmatic reasons why adultery is bad, but what makes it wrong as a matter of principle?

In one sense, adultery is sex with someone other than your spouse. But what makes that wrong?

In another, perhaps deeper sense, adultery is withholding sex from your spouse. Instead of reserving sex for your spouse, you give it to another. You take what belongs to your spouse and give it away.

In that respect, withholding sex is marriage is similar to adultery. If sex is something you're supposed to save for your spouse, then adultery and withholding sex are both examples of not saving sex for your spouse. In one case you keep it to yourself while in the other case you share it with someone who's not entitled to your body.

By the same token, if adultery is grounds for divorce, is withholding sex grounds for divorce? Mind you, there can be extenuating circumstances for why a spouse might withhold sex. But that's not what I have in mind. I'm thinking of motives like revenge, getting even, an unforgiving attitude.

There can also be a vicious cycle where a bad marriage poisons conjugal relations while bad conjugal relations poison a marriage.

Perhaps a Literal Mark of the Beast Is Not So Off-base?

Transgenderism enables pedophiles

The argument from beauty and the argument from numbers

Among other things, Pruss sketches two arguments for God's existence: the argument from beauty and the argument from math:

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The argument from logic

Life under the sun

Maybe one way of looking at Ecclesiastes is that Solomon is painting a picture of fallen life in a fallen world, that is, life "under the sun".

Not only are human beings fallen, but the whole of creation is fallen. For example, Eccl 3:20 seems to reflect Gen 3:19. We're but dust returning to dust. We live fallen lives in a fallen world. Like nuclear radiation from Chernobyl, the fallout from the fall contaminates the whole world.

Likewise hebel could mean several different things among which is, of course, breath. The brevity of breath. God breathed life into us. We who are earthen vessels. Animated clay. But this "breath" of life - our lives - will expire as quickly as it's inspired. Breathe in, breathe out, and it's all over.

Ecclesiastes is a picture of humans "groaning" (as Paul would put it) along with the whole of creation. Groaning over how fleeting everything is. Groaning over how toilsome our labors are. Groaning over our cryptic, Sphinx-like world. Groaning over the futility of life. And so on and so forth.

This groaning arguably points to a longing in the human heart. A longing for eternity, which God himself has placed in our hearts (Eccl 3:11). A longing for life "under the sun" to end. A longing for something better that doesn't wear down or wear out but lasts forever. Something which this world can't fulfill. Only the world to come (eternity) can satisfy.

As an aside, I've always appreciated Ecclesiastes for its realism. It doesn't pull punches. It tells it like it is. It's the antidote to Hallmark card Christianity.

Does Revelation teach annihilationism

Films for boys

1. Some Christian parents have lists of books for kids to read. Classics which every boy or girl should read by the time they reach adulthood. Cliche examples include The Chronicles of Narnia. 

However, I haven't seen comparable lists for movies. I mean, there are lists of "safe" movies for kids. Bubble-gummy G-rated fare. But I mean something more intelligent and growup, parallel to serious literature. 

Due to the overwhelming dominance of the cinematic artform in contemporary culture, it's useful to make a list. At the same time it's a daunting task due to the thousands of films. This post will focus on male-oriented movies because that's what I naturally relate to. 

There are films by categories, like sports, horror, science fiction, Western, war. Sports movies about an underdog athlete or team that defies the odds are popular, and there are movies on that theme which represent different sports:

• Friday Night Lights (football)
• Goal! (soccer)
• Miracle (hockey) 
• Hoosiers (basketball)
• Vision Quest (wrestling) 

There are popular Westerns like the Lonesome Dove series. 

Although it may not be a technical genre, wildness films set in the high country, Yukon, or safaris (African savanna, Amazon jungle) are naturally appealing to guys. 

There's a large category of war films. This can include Arthurian tales which model the virtues of chivalry.

2. From the standpoint of Christian parenting, what interests me more than genre are memorable films that can provide a frame of reference to illustrate and stimulate thinking about philosophy, theology, and ethics. 

3. There are films that explore the relationship between appearance or illusion and reality:

• Harsh Realm
• The Matrix (1999)
• Dark City
• The Prisoner (2009)

4. There are existential films that explore the meaning of life:

• Last Holiday (1950)
• Tuck Everlasting

5. Some films probe moral issues, like Strangers on a Train

6. Final Destination (2000) is a convenient illustration of fatalism. 

7. There are time-travel/parallel universe films that compare and contrast tradeoffs involving alternate life choices: 

• Mr. Nobody
• The Butterfly Effect

8. October Sky is good coming-of-age film

9. An important plot motif, that's not unique to any particular genre, is the story of "friends" or comrades who are thrust into a group survival situation. This can take place in different settings: wilderness, battlefield, island, POW camp. 

This becomes a test of friendship. Will they be altruistic? Will they takes risks for each other? Or will they turn on each other, double-cross one other, leave the sick and injured behind to die? Theme of loyalty, deception, betrayal, revenge, and/or reconciliation. A winnowing process. 

That theme is sometimes explored in war films, wilderness films, and spring break teen films. I don't have any particular titles in mind.

Just as certain books like The Pilgrim's Progress, The Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Flies, and Perelandra can function as a lifelong frame of reference which grown children continue to reflect on and refer back to, it would be good for Christian parents to select a dozen or so films which can serve the same purpose. For instance, fathers and sons can watch the same film together, then talk about the significance of the film. Some films may raise important questions but lack the Christian resources to give good answers. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Grudem on divorce

1. Wayne Grudem has broadened his position on grounds for divorce:

Since his new position contradicts the staged position in his recently published magnum opus on ethics, I wonder if he will issue a revised edition. 

2. Grudem has a linguistic argument for his new position. I don't have a considered opinion on his linguistic argument. 

3. I agree with Grudem, but for methodological reasons rather than narrow linguistic reasons. Sometimes Christian ethicists are walking a tightrope. That's because Jesus condemned the religious establishment for two opposite errors. On the one hand he condemned the establishment for inventing loopholes to evade God's law. 

On the other hand, he condemned the establishment for mechanically obeying God's law without regard to the purpose of some laws. Paradoxically, obeying God's law is sometimes diametrically opposed to the intent of God's law. Divine commands and prohibitions have an implied context. There are situations in which obedience to God's law is counterproductive to the purpose. 

So Christian ethicists must labor to avoid repeating the two opposite extremes that incurred the condemnation of Jesus when he reprimanded the religious establishment. We can't just play it safe by mechanically obeying commands and prohibitions, because Jesus already warned us that that's not good enough. We must think harder.

To take an illustration, the OT condemns lying trial witnesses. But what's the implied context? The implied context is witnesses who falsely accuse the defendant of wrongdoing. They lie to incriminate an innocent defendant. That's the normal motivation.

But suppose we change the context to a show trial or kangaroo court in which a witness has an opportunity to lie to exonerate an innocent witness. The defendant has been unjustly indicted. Unjustly prosecuted. Suppose a witness can provide an alibi for the defendant? The alibi is a lie, but it's a lie that gets the innocent defendant acquitted. A lie that rectifies the injustice. A lie that unrigs the system.

The OT prohibition doesn't envision that situation. Indeed, that's the polar opposite situation of what the prohibition has in mind. Instead of lying to get an innocent defendant convicted, a character witness lies to get an innocent defendant acquitted. To offset a system that's stacked against him. 

Now you may disagree with my illustration. You may still think lying is prohibited under any and all circumstances. But even so, the example illustrates the moral complexities when we change the implied context. You can't change the implied context but assume that the command or prohibition remains unchanged. Divine laws and prohibitions have a rationale. Altering the situation may sometimes moot or thwart the rationale. 

Some actions are intrinsically right or wrong. Circumstances are irrelevant. But in other cases, circumstances are morally relevant considerations.

Back to the question of divorce. It's antecedently unreasonable to presume that what Jesus said was designed to address every conceivable contingency. Jesus is giving specific answers to specific questions or challenges. In addition, there's a general moral framework which both sides take for granted.

It isn't feasible to have a divine law code for every possible situation. Law codes are finite. 

What if a wife unwittingly marries a cannibal. He plans to eat her on their honeymoon. If, at the last minute, she founds out he's a cannibal, does she have a right to divorce him? 

The Bible doesn't answer questions like that. So sometimes we have to use our own intelligence. Sometimes we have to take other biblical principles into account. Sometimes those override specific commands or prohibitions in case of conflict. In extreme or exceptional situations. 

That, however, opens the door to abuse the principle. To invent loopholes. To rationalize sin. Not only does it create that potential, but the principle will in face be abused by some denominations that are spoling for an excuse. 

So that's the knife-edge. You can fall into error on either side, just like the Jewish establishment in Jesus' day. 

I'd just make two additional points:

i) Since this is a predicament God has put us in, since we don't always have clear-cut, ready-made answers, I don't think God is going to whack us if we're mistaken so long as we make conscientious decisions. So long as we're motivated by fidelity to God. So long as these are honest mistakes.

ii) Conversely, if some denominations use the principle as a pretext to game the system and flout their religious duties, they will pay the price. God is not mocked. They may get away with it in this life, but divine justice will catch up with them. You can't play God for the fool. 

Finally, this isn't an appeal to "what God is telling the church today". This is not an invocation of where the Spirit is said to be leading the church. 

That's a blasphemous way to invoke God's name for the illusion of divine guidance when denominations are simply following the Zeitgeist. That appeal should be no part of the discussion.

Kitschy flicks

1. It's often said that most Christian movies are kitsch. To be fair, I think that's usually directed at evangelical movies. Off the top of my head I can think of several excellent Catholic movies, viz. Beckett, Brideshead Revisited, Diary of a Country Priest, In This House of Brede, A Man for All Seasons, The Nun's Story, The Scarlet and the Black, and Monsieur Quixote. And there are undoubtedly others I'm unaware of. 

In general, Catholic movies are better than evangelical movies. That may be because Catholicism generally puts greater emphasis on the fine arts than the Protestant faith (an exception are Dutch painters). Catholic worship is more visually oriented. Same is true for the Eastern Orthodox (and to some extent Anglican worship). In reviewing The Passion of the Christ, Roger Ebert insightfully noted that Gibson was inspired more by the stations of the cross than the Gospels.

In fairness, I've seen hardly any of the evangelical films on which the dismal reputation is based. One I did see which fits the trope is The Cross  and the Switchblade (1970), although I thought Estrada acted fairly well, despite the material. But in general it was a cringe-worthy film. Which is a pity because it's based on a true story with lots of dramatic potential. It needed a better director. 

Michael Landon Jr. is an evangelical director. I watched Love's Enduring Promise (2004), which was fairly good. The next installment, Love's Long Journey (2005) suffered from a replacement actress who wasn't as charismatic as the original actress. However, I lost interest in the franchise. 

The best evangelical movie might be To End All Wars, yet I confess that while I owe it, I've never been in the right mood to watch it. But I did love the novel. 

2. This goes to the underlying question, what makes a Christian story Christian? In his book A Christian Guide to the Classics, Leland Ryken draws a useful distinction:

Some Christian literature takes specifically spiritual experience as its subject matter…In other Christian literature it is not the subject matter that is religious but the perspective that the author brings to bear on the subject (64).

i) To expand on his distinction, the content can be what makes a story Christian. A story with a distinctly Christian plot, characters, setting, dialogue. Stock examples include Paradise Lost, The Divine Comedy, The Pilgrim's Progress, and Perelandra

ii) Or it can be the narrative viewpoint. That's more oblique. The plot, character, setting, and dialogue might not be distinctly Christian or churchly. It might involve mundane experiences common to believers and unbelievers alike. Yet that can still be oriented towards a Christian outlook, in terms of what is shown or implied to be ultimately important. Hopes and longings that can only be satisfied within a Christian framework. Redemptive motifs. The use of subtle Christian symbolism. The dawn of heaven casting shadows into this world's valley. 

Of course, these aren't airtight dichotomies. A Christian story can have elements of each in varying degrees.

A weakness of many evangelical films may be overreliance on explicit Christian subject matter to convey the message. Mind you, that can be the basis of great Christian storytelling, but not if the execution is formulaic and heavy-handed. It requires originality and imagination.

Likewise, the failure of evangelical directors to project a Christian vision through a more mundane vehicle, by way of emblem and contrast. That could be due to limited talent or thin theology.  

3. In my own fiction I oscillate between the two different methods of Christian storytelling, even though I don't set out to tell a story with that conscious distinction in mind. My fiction is Christian, not because I have an apologetic agenda, not because this is evangelism in a fictional garb (although there's nothing wrong with that motivation), but because that's what I care about. That's what centers my own life. I write the kind of fiction I do because it speaks to me, not the reader. Hopefully it speaks to the reader as well, but the best fiction is more organic. It is not in the first instance an apologetic or evangelistic goal, but the side-effect of the goal I'm personally aiming for in my own pilgrimage. When I do apologetics, I do it straight. That's a different genre. And my fiction isn't purposeful in that sense, but expressive of my journey. In that respect, my fiction lacks the apologetic thrust of C. S. Lewis. 

Devotional Bible reading

Because we ordinarily limit our Bible reading to the most overtly spiritual sections, we tend to have a somewhat unrealistic picture of what all is in the Bible. If we read the entire Bible, we are amazed at how much non-religious content there is–bodily ailments and hygiene in the Pentateuch, military history in the chronicles and court history in those same books, and detailed pictures of social life in the OT prophetic books...The Bible covers pretty much all of life, not only specifically spiritual experiences like prayer and forgiveness of sin and good and evil but also national history, harvest, sunrise, and losing an axe is a body of water... L. Ryken, A Christian Guide to the Classics (Crossway 2015), 68. 

On the one hand, some readers are offended by the "unedifying" passages of Scripture. On the other hand, when some Christians only read the edifying passages, it leaves them unprepared for the contrast between their selective reading of Scripture and the world they must confront. There's a grimness and grubbiness to a lot of Scripture because there's a grimness and grubbiness to a lot of life. It's spiritually perilous when our real-life experience fails to matchup with Scripture because we only read the inspirational sections. But the Christian pilgrimage isn't all hymn singing and 1 Corinthians 13.